As Kim continued researching the Pipra, all the puzzle pieces seemed to fall into place. She had collected information about the birds’ anatomy, plumage, songs, and behavior, and all supported the idea that the club-winged manakin and Pipra are close relatives. The hypothesis just made sense — to Kim at least. Her advisor, on the other hand, thought she was wrong. His anatomical studies (which he’d done during his own graduate work) suggested that the club-winged manakin occupied its own basal branch of the manakin phylogeny and was only distantly related to other manakins. But, as Kim puts it, “In science, there’s no underestimating having looked at some system more carefully than everybody else. This is an investment that every investigator makes. You should expect to have new insights sometimes — even if you are young. You don’t have to be anointed by the academy to discover something new.” And Kim was convinced that she had.
Evidence in hand, Kim went looking for genetic confirmation of the relationship between the Pipra and club-winged manakin. At the next conference she attended, Kim introduced herself to Shannon Hackett from the Field Museum, who had been working on a molecular phylogeny of the manakins. Kim explained her idea and was thrilled with the response. Shannon said that she was gratified to hear Kim’s hypothesis because her phylogenetic analyses kept grouping the club-winged manakin with the Pipra and she’d been worried about the surprising result.
Since the club-winged manakin seemed to be closely related to the Pipra species, Kim hoped that untangling its evolutionary path would be a bit easier. If a complex feature evolves in a group at the same time that the group undergoes lineage-splitting, there is a chance that some of the stages of the evolution of the feature will be preserved in lineages that branched off from one another at different points in time. Perhaps knowing more about the sounds and behaviors of Pipra species would allow Kim to map components of these traits on the phylogeny and reconstruct key ancestral states of the club-winged manakin’s evolutionary history.